Welcome to the second installment of a series that I’m calling: “More than Meets the Eye.” Each week of the summer (and possibly into the fall and winter months, depending on the number of responses I receive), I am honored to share with you interviews from members of the disability community.
The goal of this project is to raise awareness about the diversity of the disability community. The words and ideas expressed in the interviews belong to the participants, not me. This project is welcome and affirming to all members of the disability community. By sharing our stories, we can develop empathy and understanding for one another as we all travel throughout the journey of life.
Cheri Mitchell is a writer and a member of the disability community. She is fifty-seven years old and currently working on two books. Cheri also has experience as a public speaker who is working to raise disability awareness.
Cheri uses her unique blend of humor and honesty to help the world understand that, whether or not we have a disability, “we all have struggles.”
Cheri writes, “I AM PROUD AND DISABLED! Plain and simple. I am many things. I am a mom and a grandma. I am a friend and a sister. I am a person with a disability. I have a great life!”
Interview with Cheri Mitchell
Could you share a little bit about your disability? In what ways to you identify as a member of the disability community?
I have a physical disability, and I also experience hearing loss. In addition, I am a diabetic and experience tremors.
What makes you happy? What are your passions or your joys in life? Can you share a little bit about your big picture?
I am a mom and a grandma. I am a person who enjoys writing. I write social justice poetry based on the disability worldview. I am currently writing two books: one is a book of poetry; the second is based on my 17 years of experience helping people with disabilities find housing. It is about what you need to know to do a successful housing search.
When I retire from the Georgia P&A (Protection and Advocacy system) – the Georgia Advocacy Office – I plan to start a self-publishing business called Inclusive Media INC. I am a disability civil rights activist and a self-advocate. I advocate for good lives for people with disabilities. I engage in both systemic and individual advocacy. The best way to define success is one person at a time. I am also passionate about nursing transition, helping people get out of nursing facilities. Everyone should have a real home in the community! Inclusion is very important to me.
What do you think people see when they look at you?
I think most people see an older woman in a powerchair. People also notice that I am loud, too, and I shake because of my tremors.
What do you wish people would see when they look at you? What parts of your identity are most important about yourself?
I am a person! I am just like everyone else. I have talents and gifts too. I do a lot of public speaking. When talking about myself, I laughingly identify myself as a “hot chick on wheels.” Then I tease that “it does not get better than that.”
I also tell a lot of people that I am a tough chick. We all have struggles. Everyone has things they cannot do. We get through them just like everyone else. But I am truly a tough chick.
I have had three surgeries on my legs with over 1200 staples and other painful procedures, and after each surgery I took one pain pill. I do not like taking pain medication because I do not want to get addicted like so many people do. Three days after each surgery, I went back to work. That, my friends, is a tough chick!
My point is that our life is what we make it. Your attitude will determine your altitude of how high you will soar. You can fly! Finally, I want people to know that disability – having an impairment that affects your daily living – is a natural part of the human life cycle. Even if you don’t have a disability now, there is a chance you will have one in the future.
What common misconceptions do people often have about you or your disability? What do you wish people understood about your disability?
Everyone has what I call unconscious stereotypes. I was sitting on my scooter in the mall, people-watching, and a couple walked up to me and very loudly started talking to me. They were trying to be friendly. I smiled at them and jokingly said, “It’s a scooter, not a hearing aid. It’s my legs, not my ears.” We laughed it off and had a great conversation, and I made new friends.
We learn our social skills by watching others. It was an unconscious stereotype. I also want people to know that I am not special. I am not differently abled. Disability is natural, and I am proud of who I am. I AM PROUD AND DISABLED! Plain and simple. I am many things. I am a mom and a grandma. I am a friend and a sister. I am a person with a disability. I have a great life!
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you as a member of the disability community? What do you wish the rest of the world understood about your personal experience of today’s post COVD-19 world?
I am hoping everyone gets some real insight into segregation and isolation. I hope people’s eyes have been opened and they start to understand how people with disabilities feel who have been locked away for years. For people with disabilities, the isolation is multiplied by 1000. I also hope that people realize there must be a better way of providing long-term care. Many people are put in nursing facilities because they are told they need 24-hour care, but there is no 24-hour care. I dare you to go into a nursing facility and find one person who has a care provider with them 24 hours a day. It does not happen! Instead, you will hear stories about how a person pushed the call button, and ten minutes later someone showed up. People need to realize there is no 24-hour care, but there is 24-hour access to care. I think we must do better and provide that access to care at home in the community.
Please be sure to check back next week for another interview in our summer disability awareness series, More than Meets the Eye.
More Disability Awareness Posts
Blind People Write Books! Interview with award-winning author J.E. Pinto (More than Meets the Eye #2)
Blind with a Vision: Carolyn McGee (More than Meets the Eye #1)
My name is Rev. Rebecca and I blog about faith, books, and disability awareness. Please subscribe by typing your email into the box labeled, “Subscribe,” so that you never miss a post! I am also the author of the Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse and The United Methodist Church and Disability.